PHOENIX - Saying she's run out of patience, Gov. Jan Brewer will veto any bills sent to her until she sees movement on a new state budget and her pet Medicaid expansion project.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said Friday that his boss has been more than patient in giving lawmakers time to deal with all the other issues that typically pop up during the annual session. And he noted Brewer already has signed 201 bills.
But with the Legislature headed into its 120th day on Monday, Benson said Brewer wants "significant progress" on both issues.
House Speaker Andy Tobin said he was not surprised by Brewer's action.
"I fully expected that this is part of the process," he said. "I think many people would argue that this day has probably been long expected."
And within her power.
"It's good to be governor," he said, even as he credited Brewer for waiting this long before drawing a line in the sand.
Tobin said, though, the problems the governor's action creates are not just political.
He cited a 2009 Arizona Supreme Court ruling that the Arizona Constitution requires the Legislature to send bills to the governor once there has been a final vote. Tobin said Brewer's threat means choosing between violating the law by holding a measure that has gained final approval or obeying it and having good legislation quashed by Brewer.
Benson conceded the legal quandary. But he said it doesn't have to be a problem.
"They make progress on Medicaid and the budget and this becomes a moot point," he said.
How quickly any of that might happen is unclear.
There appears to be little dispute between the governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature over most state spending issues.
The spending plan, however, is tied to Brewer's proposal to expand Medicaid, taking advantage of a provision in the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act to pay virtually all of the cost of expanding coverage to everyone below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That would add about 300,000 to the rolls of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program.
Brewer would fund the state share with what amounts to a new tax on hospitals. But that $250 million levy also would generate an extra $100 million a year to finance existing AHCCCS costs.
Benson complained that Brewer unveiled her expansion plan on the first day of the legislative session in January, providing specific language to implement it shortly thereafter. He said, though, there have been no substantive negotiations between the governor's office and legislative leadership over it.
One problem is Senate President Andy Biggs has vowed to do "everything in my power" to prevent a Medicaid expansion plan from even coming to the Senate floor for a vote.
Several Republican senators have said there actually are enough GOP votes, combined with the 13 Democrats who support Medicaid expansion, to go around Biggs if necessary. That, however, is contingent on some measure getting out of the House.
In January, Tobin pronounced the governor's plan dead on arrival, at least in the form she proposed.
But the speaker said he's willing to negotiate some alternative short of Brewer's proposal. Tobin said he even went to Washington to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to see if the federal government would provide Affordable Care Act funding for something not as sweeping as what Brewer wants.
The governor's action leaves a number of bills desired by Republicans in limbo. They run the gamut from expanding existing laws barring government action that interferes with free exercise of religion to allowing Lottery winners to keep their names confidential.
Benson acknowledged the list of measures awaiting action also includes some things Brewer wants. But he said the governor is willing to risk having those sidetracked.
"The biggest single priority the Legislature has to deal with every year is the state budget," he said. In fact, it is the only thing lawmakers are constitutionally required to approve.
"And the biggest policy agenda item this session is Medicaid," Benson continued. "So it's appropriate that these two issues take center stage. They've been kind of pushed to the background long enough."
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